If I walk out on the sidewalk at 3 AM with a megaphone and start howling "woop woop woop", or yammering "Ger urwur frerm ther carr!" at the top of my lungs in a faux-authoritative voice, somebody will call the police, and in short order I'll be wrestled to the ground by Cambridge's Finest. Or by the cops, if they get there first.

Yet if I install a machine in my car that does the same damned thing, repeating itself with maddening precision for an hour or more, if I go out and install a device which has no other purpose than to wake and infuriate my neighbors in the middle of the night, if I do this, nobody does a damn thing about it.

Why is that? Can somebody explain this to me?

Car alarms do not deter theft, because nobody pays any damn attention. They go off when a cat walks under the car. They go off when the wind blows a leaf against the window. Have we heard the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf? Yes, we have. These things are totally useless for their alleged purpose.

I say "alleged" because that's what I mean. Personally, I think people get those damned things out of a passive aggressive urge to annoy people. They know they can get away with it if they do it by proxy with a gadget in their car. Pissed off at your boss? Take it out on the whole damned neighborhood! Brilliant.

The fact is that car alarms are a public nuisance with no redeeming value at all. None, not a trace.

But what's to be done? If I play my guitar loud enough to wake the dead in the middle of the night, the neighbors know who to talk to: They follow their ears, bang on my door, threaten me, etc. No problem. But a car alarm has the marvelous property of doing its evil work far from where I lie sleeping. This makes the whole thing more complicated, at least under present law.

The law's the thing, isn't it? Oh, but you say that more laws never solve problems! That may be so, but you haven't heard my law yet, have you? All we need to do is just relax, ever so slightly, the law against leaving one's apartment at 3:00 AM with a sledgehammer in hand and a murderous gleam in one's eye and pounding the living hell out of some asshole's Buick. If I were to attach a tape recorder to a megaphone and leave it on the sidewalk at 3:00 AM waking the dead, would the cops object if it got stomped? I doubt it. All we need to do is establish the fact that the public has a right to overcome a few obstacles (e.g. the windows, grille, hood, hubcaps, roof, and upholstery of the above Buick) in the course of putting an end to the nuisance.

Imagine the joy in the hearts of the honest citizens of your town as they pour out of their homes in the middle of the night, hefting bats, crowbars, and hammers! It would be like a little impromptu block party when it was least expected! What a nice surprise! Neighbors would get to know each other. Friends would be made.

It would be horribly unconstitutional to ban car alarms, naturally. There's nothing intrinsically odious about them, because they needn't be turned on. It is important to handle this in a reasonable way.

Wintersweet informs me that many US cities are willing to enforce noise ordinances on car alarm offenders. Man, that takes all the fun out of it. :(